I’m not sure Red Beans and Rice would be in my cooking repertoire if my oldest son had chosen a different college. When he was making the all-important decision, I was totally focused on the education part for him and not so much on how much fun it would be for me and the rest of the family to visit. But when your son ends up going to school in New Orleans (he’s a junior at Tulane) the perks for the family are big – especially when it comes to food! When we dropped him off freshman year, our whole family flew down to New Orleans five days early to explore the city, starting with a culinary tour of the French Quarter. We ate our way from turtle soup to pralines – a really fun way to learn about the history of a city!
As I learned on the tour, the foundation of flavor in Cajun and Creole cooking is created by sautéing the aromatic vegetables. Many countries have their own unique combinations of aromatics to flavor their traditional dishes. In Latin America they call it a sofrito. In France it’s called a mirepoix. In New Orleans the vegetables used are celery, onions and green peppers, and it is referred to as “the Holy Trinity.”
New Orleans is testament to how multiculturalism can translate into amazing food! Red Beans and Rice is an example of Louisiana Creole cooking, which has roots in the cooking customs of the French aristocracy that settled in New Orleans at the turn of the 18th century, merged with the vast and varied ingredients and techniques brought by settlers from other lands, including Spanish, German, Native American, African, and Italian. Spaniards brought peppers and spices, Germans brought sausages and delicious baked goods, the Native Americans grew corn and beans, Africans brought Okra and so on.
There are so many wonderful foods that New Orleans has made famous, but there’s something simple and wonderful about a smoky, creamy, meaty pot of red beans and rice! It’s a perfect comforting stick-to-your ribs winter dish. It doesn’t look fancy but the flavors and textures are exciting.
Speaking of exciting, New Orleans will very soon be buzzing with the excitement of Carnival season, starting on January 19 with the first parade, and culminating with Mardi Gras (or “Fat Tuesday”), the last day of the Carnival season, on Tuesday February 12th. To add to the fun, smack in the middle of all of the Carnival hoopla, is Superbowl XLVII, which takes place on February 3rd in New Orleans.
If you aren’t able to hop a flight to New Orleans for all of the festivities, at least cook up a pot of red beans and rice for the big game. You will be communing with lots of other folks in New Orleans who will also be enjoying this traditional Mardi Gras fare.
- 1 pound of red kidney beans, rinsed, picked over, and soaked for at least 8 hours or overnight. (To soak, put beans in a large bowl and cover with about 8 cups of water. For alternate soaking methods, see Bon Appetite article "How to soak and cook dried beans")
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 2 cups finely chopped onion
- 1 cup finely chopped celery
- 1 cup finely chopped green pepper
- 3 Bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon Pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 packaged boneless ham steak (They come fully cooked and weigh a pound or so) roughly chopped or cubed
- 1 pound smoked Andouille sausage (or other smoked sausages), Sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced crosswise
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 9-10 cups low salt chicken broth (I recommend Swanson's)
- Salt to taste
- 6 cups Cooked white rice (from 3 cups raw rice)
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced, to sprinkle on top
- Drain beans and set aside.
- Heat oil in a large cooking pot or dutch oven over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add chopped onion, celery and green pepper and sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, until vegetables start to soften. Add bay leaves, salt, pepper, thyme and cayenne and stir through. Add chopped ham and sausage and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes or so, to brown the meat. Add garlic and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the drained beans and 9 cups of chicken broth. Turn up heat and bring to a boil. Turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, uncovered, adding broth or water (1/4 cup at a time) if beans start to dry out.
- Remove pot from heat. Using the back of a wooden spoon against the side of the pot, mash half of the beans. Stir everything together. Return the pot to a low simmer, adding more broth or water (1/4 cup at a time), if the beans are looking too dry. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes or until the beans are tender and creamy, adding extra broth or water, if needed. Salt to taste.
- Serve over rice with chopped scallions to sprinkle on top. Enjoy!